A Brioche and Easy Hiking in Compiegne

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Hiking near Paris

Easy Hiking in Compiegne

Compiègne is a handsome market town 60 km north of Paris. It houses Napoleon’s favourite castle, a beautiful Renaissance Town Hall and a 13th century church.

"Renaissance Town Hall we passed on an easy hiking in Compiegne trip"

I bet you did not know that Compiegne has a proud history as an Olympic town, too – it hosted the golf competition in 1900 when the sport made its debut on the Olympic menu.

But what has made Compiegne famous has no connection with golf or Napoleon or even Jeanne d’Arc (who was captured here and sold to the English), but more recent events – even if they had little or nothing to do with Compiègne itself.

On 11 November 1919, the armistice to end WWI was signed in a railway coach that was parked in a spot which is normally called “near Compiègne” but is actually not that near (about a 2 hour walk away) and was chosen exactly because it was so remote. 

Marshall Foch, the head of the French High Command, had been looking for a calm and, most of all, uninhabited spot because he did not want to expose his German counterparts to a daily barrage of angry Frenchmen on their way to their meetings.

Compiegne just happened to be the nearest place to this spot that anybody had ever heard of. (The closest settlement with a name is a village called Rethondes, pop. 709.)

After the Great War, a war memorial and a museum with a large array of WWI memorabilia was erected on the site and called the Clairière de l’Armistice. You can find a detailed description of the site, and what there is to see and why you should go to Compiegne  here.

Today, I will want to focus on technicalities and just tell you how to get to this day hiking destination.

Trains from Paris to Compiègne leave about once every hour from the Gare du Nord. Compiègne is too far away from Paris to be still served by the RER trains, which is also why the trip is a little pricier than any of the usual excursions on the suburban networks. (We paid € 27 per head for our roundtrip ticket in the autumn of 2011.)

After a train ride of app. 1 hour, leave Compiègne station through the main exit and walk across the forecourt as well as the adjoining road to the River Oise. Turn right here and cross the river on the next bridge.

On the other side of the Oise, continue straight ahead for one block until you reach Compiègne town centre with the historic Town Hall on your left.

"brioche feuilletée that capped our easy hiking in Compiegne, a local bakery specialty"

Compiègne is a town of app. 50,000 people, so everything you need for your hike is here. In fact, several bakeries are located right next to the Town Hall, and one of them, called Les Picantins, offers a sweet concoction called brioche feuilletée a la Compiègnoise to which Mrs Easy Hiker took an instant shine and insisted we bring one for the journey.

In the event, she liked the brioche so much that – after our picnic in the forest – she hardly talked about anything else for the rest of the way.

It may also be a good idea to visit the Tourism Office. They offer you a free map (in English to boot) that shows the town’s attractions on one side and the outskirts of town with the Foret de Compiègne on the other (including the way to the Clairière de l’Armistice).

Turn left into the street right behind the Town Hall until you reach the Chateau. The castle was built under Louis XV but bears no trace of his famously decadent tastes, having received several classicist makeovers, most rigorously by Napoleon who loved to spend his summers here. (Architecture, sculptures and landscaping are said to reflect the Emperor’s personality as much as Versailles expressed the very essence of the “Sun King’s” baroque majesty.)

Enter the palatial gardens, either through the passage next to the big front gate (which may a bit tricky to find) or through one of the side entrances.

Walk through the gardens all the way to the exit at the end, always keeping the Chateau in your back, before walking out of the gate and continuing straight ahead through the open countryside in the direction of the Beaux Monts. (The grand vista from the Chateau to the “Beaux Monts” – although, truth be told, they are not THAT beautiful – was also opened up under Napoleon. Under Louis XV, all of this was dense forest, because the king loved to hunt and used the castle mainly as a luxurious hunting lodge.)

"Exit gate from the castle onto the Compiegne hiking trail near Paris"

A few hundred meters after crossing the fairly busy D130 road, turn left into the forest. Look for the arrow that points into the direction of the Carrefour des Beaux Monts (the path itself, also identified on the sign, is called the Promenade du Mont de Tremble).

Continue straight past the Carrefour Lucifer, cross the railway line and another, slightly less busy road called the N31. The asphalted stretch on the other side of that road will lead you to the Armistice clearance which you will find on your right hand side.

On your way back, return to the Carrefour Lucifer. Then you can decide whether you want to take the same route back or choose a different way through the forest.

"A carrefour along the trail of our easy hiking in Compiegne near Paris"

The “carrefours” – crossings of the various paths through the forest of which there are many – are excellent stageposts, and if you have a map that identifies them all by name, you can never get lost.

There are many ways of criss-crossing the forest, and the path we took – to the Carrefour du Mont de Tremble and the Carrefour des Vineux before heading straight back to the castle – is only one of them.

We decided to take the short route because it was getting ever so slightly late, and we did not want to arrive at the gates of the park after closing time (six o’clock).

I am sure you can find your way back to Compiègne train station by walking around the park, too, but it certainly makes things a lot easier if you can just traverse the gardens.

And, of course, before we made our way back to Paris, Mrs Easy Hiker insisted on a return visit to the bakery for another bite of the brioche. Sadly, however, they had all sold out.

Which is why you should, if you have a sweet tooth and don’t want the day to end on a sour note, stock up on them before heading off into the forest – apparently, and I have this from a reliable source, they are really, really good. Certainly something to make that easy hiking in Compiegne a delight.

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